Building and Managing a Project Plan

First, have a definite, clear practical ideal; a goal, an objective. Second, have the necessary means to achieve your ends; wisdom, money, materials, and methods. Third, adjust all your means to that end.    - Aristotle

Last month, I shared some advice on conducting a project planning session with your team.

By way of review, you must first prepare for the session by drafting and sharing the project charter and making sure the right stakeholders are involved. Then you actually facilitate the session and build the plan together – identifying milestones, decisions, approvals, risks, interdependencies, owners, and timing. (See these tips on facilitation.) And finally, you are accountable for sending a summary of the agreements made during the workshop to the team so they can begin to plan and take action.

However, if the project is not big enough in terms of scope or complexity, you may not need to facilitate a full project planning session. In that case, here is what I suggest you do to build and begin to manage the project plan.

First, you should identify and meet with the project workstream leads to understand what they are trying to achieve. A workstream is a group of activities that makes up part of the larger project. Workstreams are usually led by subject matter experts within the specific topic area.

Speaking to each workstream lead will allow you to gather information that will help you build the project plan. You should ask them questions about all of the things that you might discuss in a project planning session.

The below list of questions is not exhaustive, but it is a good start that touches each of the key elements of a project.

  • What is the goal of this workstream? How does it support the project charter?
  • What (human) resources are needed to manage and deliver this work? Do you need external/consulting help?
  • What are the key milestones you need to hit?
  • What timing is reasonable (yet appropriately aggressive) to hit these milestones?
  • What costs do you foresee incurring?
  • What initial risks should we plan to manage?
  • What decisions will need to be made, when, and by whom?
  • What approvals will need to be obtained, when, and by whom?
  • What interdependencies exist between your workstream and either other workstreams within this project and/or work happening outside of this project?
  • What change management, communications, or training needs do you anticipate?

While you may be thinking that this list is question overload, I think it is better to be more thorough during your initial conversations so that you are not surprised down the road. Workstream leads do not always think about these questions as they begin a project, and it is your role as the project manager to help them think through their deliverables so that they can put a realistic plan in place that will allow them to meet the project objectives.

  Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

So brush up on your note taking skills, as you will be capturing a lot of information that will need to be synthesized one cohesive project plan. It is your role to look across all of the workstreams, ask a lot of questions, and make sure that no detail is overlooked.

Once you have all of details documented, then it is time for you and the team to start working against the plan. Set up a regular meeting cadence with workstream leads and with the team as a whole to share updates and information, gather input, discuss and mitigate risks, and answer questions. Facilitating this kind of review is central to your role as the project manager.

And one last thing – make sure you set expectations about your role with the team. Let them know that you will be actively managing the plan in partnership with them – which means that you will be asking them questions and holding them accountable to ensure project success, helping them remove any roadblocks along the way.

Happy planning!